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Frequently Asked Questions - Open Access FAQ's

Digital, online and free for users literature doesn’t have the price barriers for the users, but still has permission barriers (e.g. registration, copyright and licensing restrictions, no reuse rights). E.g. you might have free access to research literature via HINARI, AGORA, OARE and other international initiatives because somebody paid on your behalf, or the publisher was generous to provide free access to you, or this was a result of negotiations. If you are asked to register, provide IP address, or sign a license, this is not open access.

By 'open access' to literature, we mean its permanent free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited (open access definition from the Budapest Open Access Initiative).

More information: see Briefing Paper What is Open Access? written by Alma Swan for OASIS [PDF]

To achieve open access to scholarly literature, there are two complementary strategies.

I.  Open access Journals. Journals that use a funding model that does not charge readers or their institutions for access (subscription or access fees). Users can read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the journal articles. These journals do no longer invoke copyright to restrict access to and use of the material they publish. Instead they use copyright and other tools to ensure permanent open access to all the articles they publish. For the journal publishers, open access brings increased readership and, with that, increased citations, and maximum visibility and impact for a journal's contents. And it means that the best possible dissemination service is being provided for research.

II. Open access repositories. Open access repositories (or archives or digital repositories) contain research output, not only refereed journal articles, but also theses and dissertations, unpublished reports and working papers, conference and workshop papers, books, chapters and sections, multi-media and audio-visual material, learning objects, datasets, software, patents, etc. They might be institutional or thematic. When these repositories conform to standards created by the Open Archives Initiative they are interoperable, forming a global research facility. Common metadata protocol allows other web applications, such as data mining. Scholars and students deposit their research outputs in open repositories – a practice commonly called self-archiving.

More information: see Briefing Paper What are Institutional Repositories? written by Alma Swan for OASIS

Completely. The short answer is that copyright law gives the copyright holder the right to make access open or restricted, and we seek to put copyright in the hands of authors or institutions that will consent to make access open. The long answer depends on whether we are talking about open access journals or open access repositories.

Open access journals will either let authors retain copyright or ask authors to transfer copyright to the publisher. In either case, the copyright holder will consent to open access for the published work. When the publisher holds the copyright, it will consent to open access directly. When authors hold the copyright, they will insure open access by signing a license to the publisher authorizing open access. Publishers of open access journals will have such licenses already prepared for authors. For more information see Report on the implementation of open content licenses in developing and transition countries.

Open access repositories. Authors of preprints hold the copyright to them and may post them to open access repositories with no copyright problems whatever. If the preprint is later accepted for publication in a journal that requires authors to transfer copyright to the publisher, then the journal may or may not give permission for the refereed postprint to be posted to an open access archive (SHERPA RoMEO site provides information about publisher copyright policies & self-archiving – use this site to find a summary of permissions that are normally given as part of each publisher's copyright transfer agreement). If permission is granted, then again there is no copyright problem. If permission is denied, then the preprint may remain in the open access archive because it is a different work from the postprint and the author never transferred the copyright on the preprint. Moreover, the author may post to the archive a list of corrigenda, or differences between the preprint and postprint. This is not quite as convenient for readers as seeing the whole postprint online, but it provides them with the equivalent of the full text of the postprint and is infinitely more useful than no free access at all.

We do not advocate open access for copyrighted literature against the will of the copyright holder or in violation of copyright law. Nor do we advocate for any changes in copyright law. We seek to maximize access within existing copyright law, in accordance with the wishes of the copyright holders.

(Based on the Budapest Open Access Initiative: Frequently Asked Question)

For more information see Author's Rights and Author Addenda in the OASIS  and Copyright and authorsʼ rights: A Briefing Paper [PDF] written by Kevin L. Smith, J.D. & David R. Hansen, J.D., Duke University for OASIS

Completely. We seek open access for peer-reviewed literature. The only exception is for preprints, which are put online prior to peer review but which are intended for peer-reviewed journals at a later stage in their evolution. Peer review is medium-independent, as necessary for online journals as for print journals, and no more difficult. Self-publishing to the internet, which bypasses peer review, is not the kind of open access that we seek or endorse.

(From the Budapest Open Access Initiative: Frequently Asked Questions)

Completely. Open access is online access, but it does not exclude print access to the same works. Open access is free of charge to readers, but it does not exclude priced access to print versions of the same works. (Because print editions are expensive to produce, they tend to be priced rather than free.) Open access does not exclude printouts by users or print archives for security and long-term preservation. For some publishers, print will exclude open access, but the reverse need never occur.

(From the Budapest Open Access Initiative: Frequently Asked Questions)

Completely. The short answer is that the same factors that create high standards and high quality in traditional scholarly publications can be brought to bear, with the same effects, on open access literature. The long answer depends on whether we are talking about open access journals or open access repositories.

Open access journals. The quality of scholarly journals is a function of the quality of their editors, editorial boards, and referees, which in turn affect the quality of the authors who submit articles to them. Open access journals can have exactly the same quality controls working for them that traditional journals have. The main reason is that the people involved in the editorial process, and the standards they use, do not depend on the medium (print or electronic) or the cost (priced or free) of the publication. This is clearest in the case when the very same people who edit print or limited access journals also edit open access journals, either because their journal appears in two versions or because they resigned from a journal that didn't support open access and created a new open access journal to serve the same scholarly community. Open access journals do not differ from toll access journals in their commitment to peer review or their way of conducting it, but only in their cost-recovery model, which has no bearing on the quality of the articles they publish.

Open access repositories. Scholars self-archive either unrefereed preprints or refereed postprints. Let's take these in order.

(A) By calling preprints "unrefereed" we mean, of course, that they are not yet peer-reviewed. Their quality has not been tested or endorsed by others in the field. But this is because they are unrefereed preprints, not because an open access repository gives open access to them. As long as they are labelled as preprints, there is no misleading of readers and no dilution of the body of refereed or peer-reviewed literature.

(B) Refereed postprints have been peer-reviewed by journals. The standards by which they have been judged and recommended are those of journals in the field, and these standards do not depend on a journal's medium (print or electronic) or cost (priced or free). The quality of the articles endorsed by these standards depends entirely on these standards, not on the fact that an open access repository provides open access to them.

If the real question here is whether those who call for open access are really calling for the abandonment of peer review, or for a kind of self-publication to the internet that bypasses peer review, the answer is no.

(Based on the Budapest Open Access Initiative: Frequently Asked Questions)

The field of High-Energy Physics (HEP) has explored alternative communication strategies for decades, initially via the mass mailing of paper copies of preliminary manuscripts, then via the inception of the first online repositories and digital libraries. In 1991, Paul Ginsparg, then at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, conceived arXiv, an internet-based system to disseminate preprints. arXiv was first based on e-mail and then on the web. Nowadays the research cycle in HEP is approaching maximum efficiency as a result of the early and free availability of articles that scientists in the field can use and build upon rapidly:

Brody has looked at the pattern of citations to articles deposited in arXiv, specifically at the length of the delay between when an article is deposited and when it is cited, and has published the aggregated data for each year from 1991. As more papers are deposited and more scientists use the repository, the time between an article being deposited and being cited has been shrinking dramatically, year upon year. This is important for research uptake and progress, because it means that in this area of research, where articles are made available at – or frequently before – publication, the research cycle is accelerating.

(From: Brody, Tim; Harnad, Stevan; Carr, Leslie. Earlier web usage statistics as predictors of later citation impact. Journal of the American Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST), 2005, Vol. 57 no. 8 pp. 1060-1072; and Open Access: What is it and why should we have it? - ECS EPrints ...Open Access: What is it and why should we have it? Swan, A. (2006) Open Access: What is it and why should we have it?).

Anne Gentil-Beccot, Salvatore Mele and Travis Brooks analysed almost two decades of use of preprints and repositories in the HEP community in “Citing and Reading Behaviours in High-Energy Physics. How a Community Stopped Worrying about Journals and Learned to Love Repositories” and provided evidences that

  1. “submission of articles to an open access subject repository, arXiv, yields a citation advantage of a factor five”;
  2. “the citation advantage of articles appearing in a repository is connected to their dissemination prior to publication, 20% of citations of HEP articles over a two-year period occur before publication”; and
  3. “HEP scientists are between four and eight times more likely to download an article in its preprint form from arXiv rather than its final published version on a journal web site”.

No. The author's consent to open access for a given article is manifested by self-archiving the article in an open access repository, by publishing it in an open access journal, or by some explicit statement attached to the article. Open access repositories and journals will help readers by making clear that they offer open access to all their contents, and they will respect authors by offering open access only to the works for which their authors have consented to open access. However, if a copyrighted work is on the internet but not in such an archive or journal, and there is no other indication of the copyright holder's wishes, then users should seek permission for any copying that would exceed fair use.

(From the Budapest Open Access Initiative: Frequently Asked Questions)

In the early days, some authors worried that open access would increase the incentive to plagiarize their work.  But this worry made no sense and has not been borne out. On the contrary.  Open access might make plagiarism easier to commit, for people trolling for text to cut and paste.  But for the same reason, open access makes plagiarism more hazardous to commit. Insofar as open access makes plagiarism easier, it's only for plagiarism from open access sources.  But plagiarism from open access sources is the easiest kind to detect.

(From Open access and quality written by Peter Suber, SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #102, October 2, 2006.)

In fact, plagiarism is diminished as a problem. It is far easier to detect if the original, date-stamped material is freely accessible to all, rather than being hidden in an obscure journal.

(From the Open Access Frequently Asked Questions, DRIVER — Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research)

It is easier to detect simple plagiarism with electronic than with printed text by using search engines or other services to find identical texts. For more subtle forms of misuse, the difficulties of detection are no greater than with traditional journal articles. Indeed, metadata tagging, including new ways of tracking the provenance of electronic data and text, promise to make it easier.

(From JISC Opening up Access to Research Results: Questions and Answers [PDF])

More information: see JISC Electronic Plagiarism Detection project

Open source software, like free software, is a kind of software whose source code is available for inspection or modification. Some open source software is available for a fee, but much of it is available at no cost. To read more about free and open source software click here.

Open access is a kind of access or availability. This kind of access could apply to any digital content, such as software, music, movies, or news. But we only calls for open access to a certain kind of scientific and scholarly literature. To read more about open access click here.

(From the Budapest Open Access Initiative: Frequently Asked Questions)

The Directory of Open Access Journals provides the author service: go and search or browse by journal title or by subject open access & hybrid journals to find where to publish your research as open access. You can search and browse all the journals, or only the journals that don’t charge publication fee.

You can deposit your research papers in the open access subject (disciplinary) repositories. Browse the list of open access disciplinary repositories in the Open Access Directory (OAD).  Unless otherwise noted, they accept relevant deposits regardless of the author's institutional affiliation. Or search and browse the Directory of Open Access Repositories to find the disciplinary repositories (in the Any Repository Type box choose Disciplinary).

You can also deposit your research output in ZENODO – a new simple and innovative service that enables researchers, scientists, projects and institutions to share and showcase multidisciplinary research results (data and publications) that are not part of existing institutional or subject-based repositories. ZENODO enables researchers, scientists, projects and institutions to:

  • easily share the long tail of small research results in a wide variety of formats including text, spreadsheets, audio, video, and images across all fields of science;
  • display and curate their research results and get credited by making the research results citable and integrate them into existing reporting lines to funding agencies like the European Commission;
  • easily access and reuse shared research results.

ZENODO assigns all publicly available uploads a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) to make upload easily and uniquely citeable.

ZENODO has been set up by CERN within OpenAIRE (Open Access Infrastructure for Research in Europe) project.  

And you can deposit papers into the an assured gateway to make research open access. It provides two main services: a deposit service for researchers worldwide without an institutional repository in which to deposit their papers, articles, and book chapters (e-prints); and a re-direct service which alerts depositors to more appropriate local services if they exist. The first time a researcher visits the, the repository will automatically check with OpenDOAR, the registry for open access repositories, to find a more appropriate local repository. If none exists then the author will be invited to deposit their research in the The is OAI-compliant allowing deposited e-prints to be 'harvested' by search services, and other repositories, giving them instant global visibility.

For researchers, open access brings increased visibility, usage and impact for their work. A number of studies have now been carried out on the effect of open access on citations to articles, showing the increased citation impact that open access can bring. Open access repositories also provide an excellent means for researchers to boost their online presence and raise their profile.

Please see the Benefits of open access for research dissemination in the OASIS or EIFL-OA resources.

Research institutions benefit from open access in the following ways: increased visibility and presence on the Web; increased impact for research; the open access collection in the repository forms a complete record of the research output of the institution in easily accessible form, provides the means for the institution to manage its research programmes more effectively and to measure and assess its research programmes. Open repositories publicise an institute’s research strengths, providing maximum return on research investment. Institutions can mandate open repositories, speeding development.

Open repositories increase impact and usage of institute's research, providing new contacts and research partnerships for authors. Free and open source software is used to set up the repositories and institutions benefit from free technical support for installation and use. There are low installation and maintenance costs, repositories are quick to set up and gain benefits. And repositories provide usage statistics showing global interest and value of institutional research.

A JISC report authored by Alma Swan called “Modelling scholarly communication options: costs and benefits for universities” shows that a single large university could contribute around £3 million each year to the research community as a whole simply by sharing knowledge through a more open route. The study applied open access models to a representative group of universities, and reviewed the costs and benefits of each scenario. In terms of modelling, the work does two things: it identifies the costs and benefits of different scholarly communication scenarios; and it quantifies them, that is, it attaches actual values to cost elements in the processes involved and measures what economic outcomes emerge from modelling various scenarios. The outcomes of this modelling vary (eg by university) but, in all cases, open access options have the potential to save universities money.

Open repository can be a useful tool in day-to-day research management activities. Once research outputs are stored in the repository departmental research managers can use them as the definitive source of information for promotion panels and appraisals. It is part of a network, both formal and informal. Repositories could be linked to the institutional research management system (IRMS):  e.g. data from the finance office for research income, information on staffing from the human resources database and details of postgraduate numbers from the student records system. Using open access institutional repository in this way can lead to resource efficiencies across the institution. Without this arrangement the information about research outputs may otherwise need to be gathered from several individual departments or research groups.

(See the Briefing Paper written by Wendy White, University of Southampton Library, and edited by Alma Swan for OASIS [PDF]

For more information see: Institutional Advantages from Open Access in the OASIS; a Briefing Paper: What are Institutional Repositories? written by Alma Swan for OASIS [PDF]; and the Briefing Paper Institutional Repositories: Business Issues for Institutional Managers written by Alma Swan for OASIS [PDF].

Submit your research articles to open access journals, when there are appropriate open access journals in your field.

Deposit your preprints in an open access, OAI-compliant repository. It could be a disciplinary or institutional repository. If you have questions about archiving your eprints, then see Stevan Harnad’s Self-Archiving FAQ.

Deposit your postprints in an open access repository. The “postprint” is the version accepted by the peer-review process of a journal, often after some revision. If you transferred copyright to your publisher, then postprint archiving requires the journal’s permission. However, many journals have already consented in advance to postprint archiving by authors. Some will consent when asked. Some will not consent. For publisher policies about copyright and author archiving, see the searchable database maintained by Project SHERPA.  If you have not yet transferred copyright to a publisher, then ask to retain copyright. If the journal does not let you retain copyright, then ask at least for the right of postprint archiving. If it does not let you retain the right to archive your postprint, then ask for permission to put the postprint on your personal web site. The chief benefit of postprint archiving is reaching a much larger audience than you could reach with any priced publication (in print or online). Reaching a larger audience increases your impact, including your citation count. Many studies confirm that OA articles are cited significantly more often (on the order of 50-300% more often) than non-OA articles from the same journal and year.

Deposit your data files in an open access repository along with the articles built on them. Whenever possible, link to the data files from the articles, and vice versa, so that readers of one know where to find the other.

When asked to referee a paper or serve on the editorial board for an open access journal, accept the invitation.

If you are an editor of a toll-access journal, then start an in-house discussion about converting to open access, experimenting with open access, letting authors retain copyright, abolishing the Ingelfinger rule, or declaring independence (quitting and launching an OA journal to serve the same research niche).

Volunteer to serve on your university’s committee to evaluate faculty for promotion and tenure. Make sure the committee is using criteria that, at the very least, do not penalize faculty for publishing in peer-reviewed open access journals. At best, adjust the criteria to give faculty an incentive to provide open access to their peer-reviewed research articles and preprints, either through open access journals or open access archives.

Work with your professional societies to make sure they understand open access. Persuade the organization to make its own journals open access, endorse open access for other journals in the field, and support open access self-archiving by all scholars in the field.

Write opinion pieces (articles, journal editorials, newspapers op-eds, letters to the editor, discussion forum postings) advancing the cause of open access.

Educate the next generation of scientists and scholars about open access.

(From What you can do to promote open access written by Peter Suber)

  • Launch an open access, OAI-compliant institutional repository, for both texts and data.
  • Help faculty deposit their research articles in the institutional archive.
  • Help to publish open access journals and create open educational resources.
  • Help in data curation and sharing.
  • Spread a word about open access.
  • Undertake digitisation, access, and preservation projects not only for faculty, but for local groups, e.g. non-profits, community organizations, museums, galleries. Show the benefits of open access to the non-academic community surrounding the university, especially the non-profit community.

(Based on What you can do to promote open access written by Peter Suber).

Every research funding agency should have an open access policy, many already do, and most are probably thinking about it. Please see some guides to the major decisions which come up in framing a new policy, reviewing an older one, or thinking about policies elsewhere:

In the open access repository policy you define an overall vision for your institutional repository, a collection policy, a submission policy, the content types that you will be including in your institutional repository, a deposit licence and policy and a re-use licence for your institutional repository, take-down policies and embargoes, a preservation policy, and rights, responsibilities and repository services, etc.

When you have a publicly stated open access repository policy for the permitted re-use of deposited items or for such things as submission of items, long-term preservation, etc, it simplifies matters for organisations wishing to provide search services, which in turn increases the visibility and impact of the repositories.

Institutional open access policy may be voluntary (i.e. it requests that researchers make their work open access in the institutional repository) or mandatory (i.e. it requires that researchers make their work open access in the institutional repository). The evidence [PDF] shows that only mandatory policies produce the level of self-archiving from researchers that fill repositories. So, although voluntary policies were initially popular, new institutional policies are now usually mandatory. Mandatory policies, on the other hand, do bring the high level of self-archiving that provides a university with the increased visibility and impact that open access promises.

The first university-wide mandatory policy was implemented by Professor Tom Cochrane, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, in 2004. Since then, growing numbers of universities and research funders have followed suit. A list of policies developed by universities, research institutes and research funding agencies is maintained at the University of Southampton. As this is a self-registering service, supplemented by the list owners adding policies that they have discovered serendipitously, this list under-represents the actual number of policies in existence.

Mandatory policies should be coupled with a clear case explaining why the university wishes to collect its research outputs in one place – for internal record-keeping, for research assessment, as a central locus for access to the outputs of any individual, group or department, and so on.  In this way, a mandate becomes a non-controversial part of institutional operations.

(from Institutional Policies section in the Open Access Scholarly Information Sourcebook)

Please read about the main issues to take into account in developing an institutional open access policy here. You can also read